Martin McNamara, MSC
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
B. Reflection & Dialogue: God’s prophetic voice always present, whether people listen or not.
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
First Reading (Ezekiel 2:2-5). The sons are defiant and obstinate and they shall know that there is a prophet among them. The prophet Ezekiel was taken into exile at the first deportation of Jews to Babylon in 597 B.C. The complete destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by the Babylonian armies and another deportation to Babylon were to follow a mere ten years later. A succession of prophets from 740 B.C. onwards (Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Jeremiah) had warned that neglect of God’s message through his messengers would inevitably spell disaster. This prophetic voice, God’s will for his people, was there whether Israel accepted it or not. With this first deportation to Babylon the prophets were clearly proved to be right. Israel had to be reminded of this, as the prophetic voice would soon change from that of doom to confidence in the future. It would appear that the Jews in exile in Babylon were as adamant in rejecting God’s word as were their ancestors in the preceding generations. In today’s reading Ezekiel is commissioned to address his fellow countrymen in plain language. The divine spirit speaking to Ezekiel addresses him as “son of man”. Here this designation (unlike in the Gospels) is not a messianic title but an indication of the prophet as a mere mortal, in contrast to the divine Spirit speaking to him. The Jews in exile, and probably at home in Judah, are described a set of rebels. God’s prophet is to communicate the divine message to them, whether they like it, accept it, or not. God has a plan for his people and his messengers cannot bow to any current pressure at variance with this. As for the Jewish people in exile, after the terrible disasters they recognized the errors of their ways and repented, preparing the way some decades later for the message of the prophet Second Isaiah on the new creation and the glorious future in store God’s his people – and for humanity.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 122 [123). Our eyes are on the Lord till he show us his mercy.
Second Reading (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me. In the final section of this letter to the Corinthians (chapters 10-13), written in 56-57 AD, Paul is dealing with problems that had arisen in the Corinthian church, founded by him just five years or so earlier. There were some false apostles setting themselves up as rivals to Paul and other members of the community were also questioning his qualifications and apostolic credentials. We are not quite sure who these rivals or adversaries were. From details in the letters one of the groups asserted that they were Hebrews, Israelites, descendants of Abraham, that is Jews, but also servants of Christ, that is Christians. In the years in question Palestine and in particular Judea were in a state of unrest against Roman rule and Zealots with unruly tendencies were active. It may be that this mood gave rise to religious Christian Zealots, anxious to impose fidelity to the full Mosaic law on both Gentile and Jewish Christians, giving rise to opposition to Paul. But for lasck of evidence one can only speculate. In any case, Paul defends his status as their apostle and recounts some of his suffering in his ministry as apostle. He also mentions his visions and revelations from God, being, as he says, once caught up to the third heaven. But he had reminded the Corinthians when first preaching to them that God had willed to save the world not by miracles beloved by Jewish tradition, or by human wisdom highly regarded by Greeks, but rather by the foolishness of the cross. Paul also realised that the death (cross) and resurrection of Christ were at work in his ministry and in the life of the Church. His mystical experiences were counterbalanced by some problems he refers to as “a thorn in the flesh”, either some sickness or possibly the annoyances from the opposition to him in Corinth. God’s answer to his prayer for relief was that God’s power in the success of the ministry is shown in human weakness. Success comes from God, not from human effort. This leads Paul back to essentials: contradictions, insults and other difficulties when necessary for Christ’s sake can further God’s saving plans.
Gospel (Mark 6:1-6). A prophet is despised only in his own country. In this brief narrative Mark highlights again the importance, in fact the necessity, of faith for understanding Jesus and his message. In his home town (Nazareth, but Mark does not give its name), report of Jesus’ miracles and teaching at Capernaum and around the Sea of Galilee would have been well known. At first they are astonished at his teaching and the reports regarding him. Then they ask the fundamental question: Whence all this? They knew him at the human level: a son of Mary. (Joseph is not mentioned; why we cannot say. He was probably dead.) Jesus’ brothers (given by name) and his sisters are mentioned. These in the Protestant tradition are children of Mary, a view not acceptable for Catholics or the Greek Orthodox, given Mary’s perpetual virginity. They may have been children of Joseph by an earlier marriage, a tradition already represented in second century tradition. Mark’s readers would have known the source of Jesus’ teaching and miracles: his anointing by the Holy Spirit. Through lack of faith, the prophet Jesus was not accepted in his own town, a situation to be repeated throughout history. Through faith, miracles became “signs” of Jesus’ person and work, and without this faith they lacked meaning. Hence, Mark notes, Jesus could work no miracle there.
B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: God’s prophetic voice always present, whether people listen or not
The prophet Ezekiel was commanded by God to preach to his people, whether they listened or not so that they might know that there was a prophet among them. God’s prophetic voice is present in the Church and in the world even if some would wish it otherwise. It is present in the Church in a special way during liturgical celebrations, especially during Mass, since when the Scriptures are read in the Church it is Christ himself who is present proclaiming his Gospel. In the book of Ezekiel those who rejected God’s voice through the prophet are described as rebels. In any generation, more particularly in our own, there are many who reject any voice outside that perceptible by the senses as an unacceptable interference. God, not as an imposition but as a saving God, will continue to address his message to these. This dialogue will continue between an agnostic or unbelieving world through believers.
Within the Church itself there will be division as to what extent the Church’s message and practice should change to conform to changed circumstances and outlook. In Church authority there can be a prophetic presence that proclaims its central message even if not found acceptable by a number of believers. It can be difficult at times to perceive whether the Church’s official attitude is truly prophetic, in the tradition of the text of Ezekiel, or simply stubborn refusal to change.
There is a prophetic presence in the central position of the cross in the Church’s proclamation, a folly for some but the power of God for believers (see 1 Corinthians 1:18). Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, but this is perceived by faith, not through human reason. God is the source of our life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; “therefore , as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord’”.
The prophetic presence of God may even be seen in divisions and questioning within the Church. The apostle Paul had to experience this in Corinth, and it led him to understand the mystery of suffering and personal weakness, once he understood that through belief in God’s plan of salvation human weakness can show forth God’s power. Jesus’ own townspeople at Nazareth perceived the externals with regard to Christ. Faith sees both the externals and the power of God in his Son and working through him.